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Ulster Walks: Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park

By Linda McKee

All ages will be able to enjoy this walk — a gentle stroll around the meadows, woodland, riverside fields and formal gardens that make up the beautiful Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park.

The park is home to the world-famous rose gardens and hosts the International Rose Trials every year. The pygmy shrew found in the park can be seen spending most of their time hunting for anything smaller than themselves to eat. The park harbours a wide range of parkland and woodland birds including jays, thrush, rook, swallows, tits and finches and is full of trees and wildflowers, including beech, oak, sycamore, primrose and bluebells.

Directions

The park is accessible by bike from NCN Route 9. By Bus: Metro service 8a, 8b, 8c from City Hall. Get off at the junction of Upper Malone Road and Finaghy Road South, and walk along the Upper Malone Road for 1 mile (1.6km) to the start of the route. It’s also served by Ulsterbus service 21 to Drumbeg from Europa bus station (Mon-Fri only). Entrances are signposted off the Upper Malone Road. Enter at lower car park.

Beginning at the lower car park, take the path to the right of the buildings, leading behind the works yard. At the first junction turn right up the azalea walk. At the end of this path turn left through the small gate, and then left again at the fountain. This leads to the walled garden.

Retrace your steps to the fountain, turn right and follow the path between the yew hedges. Halfway along is an opening on your left — follow this to Wilmont House. To the left of the house, across the lawn you will see the first of the rose gardens. Close by are the only public toilets in the park.

Continue along the main driveway, and visit the Japanese Garden on the left. After some distance, a path on your left leads down to a stone patio. Walk straight ahead from the patio, keep to the right beyond the rose beds and follow a grass path around the hay meadows. Before you reach a low-lying belt of trees, the grass path continues to the left, sweeping round the meadow. Shortly you will see the River Lagan ahead — walk on round the edge of the meadow, keeping the river to your right. Turn right through the woodland and soon you will pick up a gravel path which leads back to the lower car park.

The Backdrop

Wilmont House, situated in the grounds of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park, was built in the early 1760s by the Stewarts, a family of farmers. The family was among the first to grow carrots on a large scale in the early 1800s and one of the early threshing machines was erected on the property in 1811. The last Stewart to be associated with the house was James, who mortgaged the property to the Northern Banking Company in 1844, ending almost a century of family connections.

During the 19th century the estate changed hands several times within 14 years. In 1858 James Bristow, a director of the Northern Banking Company, was granted a lease to the property. He commissioned the building of the present Wilmont House, which was designed by one of Belfast's most important Victorian architects, Thomas Jackson.

James Bristow's initials are inscribed in stone on the north side of the house. In 1897 the estate was sold to Robert Reade following the deaths of the Bristow male heirs.

After he died in 1913, his son sold it to Sir Thomas Dixon for £21,500.

In 1935 Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, was a guest and General Collins of the United States Army was billeted at Wilmont House during Second World War. Sir Thomas Dixon died in 1950 and in 1959 Wilmont House and 134 acres of estate were presented to Belfast Corporation by Lady Dixon in memory of her husband. The park was opened that same year.

Keep an eye out for the dummy window, painted on the brickwork of Wilmont House to balance the exterior. The fountain situated in the park was renovated and a new fountain commissioned for the Queen's Golden Jubilee year.



Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) at 028 9030 3930 or www.walkni.com

CAAN and Belfast City Council in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.Walk Name: Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park.

Area: Upper Malone Road, Belfast

Nearest big town to start point: Belfast

Distance: 2.5 miles/ 4km.

Terrain: Surfaced and grass paths with some hills.

Refreshments: Coffee shop in the lower car park, Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park.

Publications: A Walk in the Park, available from Belfast City Council, Parks Section ( www.belfastcity.gov.uk/parks ).

A Breath of Fresh Air: The Story of Belfast’s Parks, by Robert Scott, is available from Belfast City Council.

Walk Developed By: Belfast City Council.

Map: Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series sheet 15, available from OSNI Map Shop, Colby House, Stranmillis, Belfast BT9 SBJ ( www.lpsni.gov.uk ).

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